The smell of wood smoke is common in much of Mexico as wood continues to be the fuel of choice — and necessity, for many — of a large number of households. But it is not the most healthy or environmentally friendly of choices.
The widespread use of wood for cooking has made chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, the fifth highest cause of death in Mexico, according to the National Institute of Respiratory Illnesses. Many people become intoxicated by the smoke as their cooking is done in small, poorly ventilated spaces.
Constantly breathing wood smoke has also been associated with a higher risk for lung cancer, cataracts and other ailments.
It was in 2013 that Carlos Glatt became a first-hand witness to the harmful effects of cooking with firewood. He was part of a group of volunteers distributing food to the victims and survivors of Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel in the state of Guerrero.
Touched by the case of a 14-year-old teen with “lung pain,” Glatt decided to design a greener alternative to the wood stove.
“It lasted a year, the development process, testing the prototype in several communities, trying different manufacturing techniques . . . after that time I finally managed to have a clear business plan to offer our investors,” says Glatt of the process that followed.
His product, called La Estufita GlattStove, or the Little GlattStove, looks like a large can and is fueled by a liquid, natural gas-based fuel that, Glatt claims, pollutes less than wood and even propane.
Glatt says the stove is not only the world’s cheapest but also represents a viable ecological alternative given estimates that a typical family using wood for cooking consumes about 100 trees per year.
The highly portable stove, which measures 15 by 15 centimeters, is designed to last five years, but it can be used longer than that: “As long as you use it correctly, it won’t wear out,” says its inventor. “We’ve tested units that are completely rusted, and they keep lighting up.”
Glatt has already manufactured 25,000 units and plans to produce 150,000 more. “We’ve given 500 stoves away in several communities during our testing stage.”
“We’ve already got our target markets well-defined: communities and people in extreme poverty, as well as people who can afford to pay the product’s full price . . . . ”
Glatt plans to sell 50% of his production through supermarkets and convenience stores at US $10; a liter of fuel will sell for $1.
The other half will be sold to economically-marginalized communities at a much-reduced price through the collaboration of donors who will pay 90% of the stove’s price; consumers will be able to purchase it for just $1.
Which makes the world’s cheapest stove even cheaper yet.